Wembanyama goes to Spurs as No. 1 pick in NBA draft, with expectations of stardom
NEW YORK — Victor Wembanyama is the No. 1 pick in the NBA Draft 2023, headed to San Antonio with enormous expectations to become basketball’s newest sensation.
The selection of the 19-year-old from France that had been a foregone conclusion for months was announced by NBA Commissioner Adam Silver on Thursday night at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, followed by chants of “Wemby! Wemby” from a group of Spurs fans waving signs from the first row of seats.
Wembanyama arrives with far more height and hype than most No. 1 picks. Listed at 7-foot-4, he dominated his French league in his final season there, leading all players in scoring, rebounding and blocked shots.
Now he makes the move to the NBA, perhaps as the best prospect since LeBron James came out of high school in 2003. Wembanyama brings a package of skills that seem perfect for the modern NBA and too vast for one player, with the size of a center and the shooting and ballhandling ability of a guard.
"Hearing that sentence from Adam Silver, I've dreamed of it so much."
—Victor Wembanyama and his siblings were emotional after he was drafted No. 1 overall pic.twitter.com/YRlkTcMpbl
— ESPN (@espn) June 23, 2023
“Hearing that sentence from Adam Silver, I’ve dreamed of it so much,” Wembanyama said, tears in his eyes as he left the stage with his Spurs cap on and hugged his siblings. “I’ve got to cry.”
Wembanyama was the center of attention throughout the draft process and sat in the middle of the green room — for the short time he was there, anyway. He smiled for young fans who screamed “Victor!” as he walked around the arena, even encouraging one to throw him a basketball that he signed and tossed back up into the stands.
In an interview with ESPN before his selection, Wembanyama said he was relishing the challenge of being a star both on and off the court.
More than basketball
“I know I can bring so much more than just basketball to a franchise,” Wembanyama said.
“My goal is always going to be to win titles, obviously. But also to the community, the franchise, to the fan base I know I can bring so much more.”
Wembanyama will begin his NBA career under the watchful eye of Spurs coach Gregg Popovich, the widely revered 74-year-old who has led San Antonio to five NBA Championships since taking over in 1996.
“We’re thrilled that we’re able to bring Victor on board,” Popovich said at a press conference in San Antonio on Thursday.
“Anybody would be excited about getting the number one pick. I’m very excited. You don’t want me to jump and down, or put on a show do you? I’d do a somersault but I’d be out for three months.”
Popovich meanwhile brushed off invitations to compare Wembanyama with some of the greats of NBA history.
“I don’t compare players, that’ll never happen,” Popovich said. “He’s Victor — and that’s who I want him to be, and that’s who myself and my staff will coach.”
San Antonio general manager Brian Wright sees Wembanyama, who will be formally unveiled by the team in Texas on Saturday, as a “unique talent.”
“People talk about generational talent, and they only think on-court skill, but it’s bigger than that,” Wright told ESPN.
“You see him doing things that you wouldn’t even have guessed someone could do.”
With his potentially dominant blend of size and skill, Wembanyama has already drawn a legion of admirers across the NBA before even setting foot in the league.
LeBron says Wembanyama’s skillset makes him less a “unicorn” and “more like an alien.”
“No one has ever seen someone as tall as he is and as fluid and as graceful as he is on the floor,” James said last year. “He’s for sure a generational talent.”
No.2 NBA Draft pick
The Charlotte Hornets took Alabama freshman forward Brandon Miller with the No. 2 pick.
Scoot Henderson of the G League Ignite, whose bling-filled jacket stood in sharp contrast to Wembanyama’s solid green look, was the No. 3 pick by the Portland Trail Blazers.
It was during a two-game series between teams featuring Wembanyama and Henderson last October in Las Vegas that Wembanyama solidified himself as the main man in this draft, scoring 37 and 36 points in front of scouts and some future opponents. His highlights, such as a follow dunk of his own missed 3-pointer, became can’t-miss content for basketball fans during the past season.
Wembanyama is the Spurs’ third No. 1 pick and the first since Tim Duncan in 1997, which led to a stretch of five NBA championships through 2014 before they struggled in recent seasons.
He became the first international player drafted No. 1 without playing any college basketball since Andrea Bargnani in 2006.
Draft history was made with the Nos. 4 and 5 picks. Twins Amen and Ausar Thompson of Overtime Elite became the first brothers to be selected in the top 10 of the same draft, with Amen going to the Houston Rockets and Ausar following to the Detroit Pistons.
Anthony Black of Arkansas was taken sixth by Orlando, ending the run of three straight players who hadn’t gone to college. But then it was right back to the international ranks when Indiana picked Bilal Coulibaly, Wembanyama’s teammate with Boulogne-Levallois Metropolitans 92 whose stock soared in the postseason as the team reached the finals in the Pro A League.